Three pipelines blocked this week are significant back-to-back wins for Indigenous and Black-led resistance and bad news for Big Oil. The era of fossil fuels is over. Fossil fuel CEOs are refusing to acknowledge their time is up, while denying the climate crisis itself.
On Monday, a U.S. federal judge ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), following a four-year legal battle. The pipeline would’ve carried 570,000 barrels per day of fracked oil from North Dakota to Illinois, crossing 200 waterways along the route.
And on Monday night, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Trump’s attempt to restart the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL), further delaying the already long-delayed project until at least 2021. KXL would run from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska.
“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” said Mike Faith, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Elder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard called the victory “a dream that comes true”.
Indigenous-led resistance has played a central role in blocking all three pipelines. The New Republic summed it up well: the people killed the pipelines.
The climate crisis and anti-Black racism are intertwined
The win against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was a result of years of community organizing that was both for climate justice and against anti-Black racism and colonialism. Several of the compressor stations for the pipeline were planned for predominantly Black communities like Union Hill in Buckingham County, Virginia and Northampton County, North Carolina.
In Buckingham County, NBC News reports that “Some families of Union Hill can trace their lineage to slave ancestors and freedmen who settled there after the Civil War... It was there that a network of environmental activists and longtime African American residents joined forces to stop the building of a natural gas compressor station in Buckingham's historically Black community of Union Hill.”
“Environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked,” a U.S. Circuit Judge wrote in a ruling on the compressor station earlier this year. According to NBC News, a decision of the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia unanimously found that the state’s Air Pollution Control Board “had failed to consider how the compressor station project would disproportionately affect residents of the community.”
In the midst of the Black Lives Matter uprising against systemic racism and police brutality against Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), it’s critical we also recognize the disproportionate impact fossil fuels, the climate crisis and the pandemic are having on the same racialized peoples and communities. When these groups organize to protect their communities from the harms of fossil fuel infrastructure, the backlash from security forces (either public or private) sustains the criminalization and repression of BIPOC communities. Environmental racism and police brutality are inherent features of fossil fuel expansion.
End of a fossilized era
When you’re in a hole the first rule of getting out of it is to stop digging down. When you’re in a climate crisis, the first rule is to stop digging for more fossil fuels.
The price of oil cratered this past April. There was so much unwanted oil that traders couldn't find storage for that companies actually had to start paying buyers to take it off their hands. While the price has since increased again, the fact remains that fossil fuel economics are fundamentally volatile.
And yet, with the blessing of federal and provincial governments in Canada, the fossil fuel industry just keeps digging a bigger hole for all of us. It makes no sense for the economy, the environment or public health.
Even before the recent oil price crash, movements have been successful in stopping the types of fossil fuel projects that we’re always told are inevitable.
Multibillion-dollar Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) projects are now on the verge of collapse. The industry is so threatened that a slew of fossil fuel giants created a new lobbying organization to try to greenwash LNG as the fuel of the future (spoiler alert: it’s not). Just last month, BP and Shell wrote off tens of billions of dollars in “stranded assets,” essentially admitting that what the climate justice movement has been saying for a long time now has been correct. Known reserves aren’t assets. They're liabilities. And we need to keep them in the ground.
The blocking of Atlantic Coast, Dakota Access and Keystone XL this week bluntly reiterates the fact that pipelines are becoming unbuildable.
Meanwhile in Canada, pipeline corporations continue to operate with impunity, denying this changed reality, while also endangering public health at the same time by running work camps during a pandemic.
In the latest of many transgressions, Coastal GasLink (CGL) “has commenced pipeline construction through hundreds of wetlands without first completing required environmental fieldwork,” according to Unist’ot’en Dark House. As a result, B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office ordered CGL to stop construction near these wetlands. Meanwhile, CGL is continuing to build new work camps along the route to carry out its plans to lay pipe this summer.
Companies are becoming increasingly desperate and clinging to the fossil fueled economy of the past, even if that means breaking laws, violating human and Indigenous rights, or manipulating governments for subsidies and bailouts.
The Council’s solidarity with Indigenous-led pipeline resistance
Council of Canadians chapters and staff have supported the fights against the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines in a variety of ways.
The Council called on President Obama to rescind DAPL’s permits.
Our chapters and staff participated in solidarity events from coast-to-coast-to-coast opposing DAPL in Regina, Chilliwack, Kent County, Montreal, Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton, Prince Edward Island, St. John’s, Peterborough-Kawarthas, London, Victoria, Kelowna, Thunder Bay, Powell River, Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa – including supporting protests and fundraisers for Indigenous water protectors.
In October 2017, when the police started using sound cannons – also known as Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) – against Indigenous water protectors, we sent 1000 pairs of earplugs to Standing Rock. We also called on Canadian banks to divest from DAPL and supported Indigenous allies traveling to Standing Rock from Nova Scotia and Manitoba so they could report back here in support of campaigns against other pipelines, including Energy East, Trans Mountain and Line 3.
DAPL’s owner, Energy Transfer Partners, is vowing to fight this week’s decision. Like a many-headed hydra, cancelled pipelines often regrow or a new one tries to take their place.
But even when these victories aren’t permanent, the cumulative effect of resistance still pushes us closer to a fossil free future by making it more and more difficult for new fossil fuel infrastructure to be built.
A path toward a just future
There's no future for this industry and bail outs are a dead end. We might as well burn our money, but instead federal and provincial governments are giving it to Big Oil to burn it for us. As with most bail outs, fossil fuel CEOs will likely use these bail outs for increasing their own profits rather than improving working conditions or protecting jobs.
Big Oil bail outs are not the solution. In the short-term, we need a just recovery that’s rooted in Indigenous rights and ensures decent work for all, regardless of status. And a just recovery will propel us toward a Green New Deal. This is our collective pathway out of the intertwined crises of pandemic, climate injustice, inequality, colonialism, and racism.
Together, we can do this. We will continue to organize in our communities in solidarity with front line struggles, like the ones which have won such important victories against pipelines this week. The struggle continues.